"Some years later, in a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement.” As an opening line guaranteed to pick you up by the scruff of the neck and not let go, it doesn’t get much better than that. Live by Night is told in flashbacks, coming around full circle to that gripping beginning, which is, in its way, the end.
Ardent Dennis Lehane-ophiles will recognize the Coughlin family name from 2008’s The Given Day, the sweeping early 20th-century novel in which Aiden (Danny) Coughlin, Joe’s Boston cop father, played a pivotal role. Fast-forward 10 years or so to the heady time of Prohibition, and the younger Coughlin offers up a fine example of the apple having fallen far from the tree. While Coughlin père pursued his vision of law and order, Coughlin fils embarked early on a life of crime. He should have known better than to rob well-connected speakeasy owner Albert White, and he really should have known better than to make a play for White’s girl, but then there would have been no cement overshoes and probably no story as well. And make no mistake, there is a fine story here, more than the equal of its predecessor—one that begs for (and, according to reports, will receive) a third installment.